Much like the cultural regeneration of other major metros, Johannesburg’s reinvention has been happening in clustered sectors, birthing hubs of creative entrepreneurship and urban activity that have transformed previously-avoided areas into popular destinations.
Principal amongst these are Braamfontein and Maboneng, where – thanks to profusions of galleries, novel hotels, design-centred boutiques, cafes, restaurants, and fashionable markets – there’s life on the streets day and night.
Maboneng began as an urban development combining artists’ studios, a few galleries and shops, as well as a themed hotel, restaurants, and the occasional rooftop party. It repurposed abandoned semi-industrial spaces as edgy new digs designed to accommodate the working needs of a creative community and hopefully attract curious visitors.
Rapidly, interest in the development grew, along with more visitor offerings, including what is now the city’s best independent cinema, The Bioscope, and a busy little theatre space, POPArt. There’s loads of public art (plus more galleries than you can handle in a day) and plenty of places to shop, such as the pan-African design emporium, ACE. Eating options include outlets specialising in traditional African cuisines (try Little Addis for authentic Ethiopian food, or House of Baobab for dishes from around the continent). And – because everyone needs some downtime in Jozi – Cocoon is a neat wellness studio with spa, healing centre and dance classes, with rooftop yoga to provide some respite from all the stimulation.
With its infamous Bloody Mary Happy Hour and mix of good food and clever design items for sale, Market On Main has become one of the city’s favourite Sunday outings (10am–3pm), with the chance to picnic under olive trees tucking into traditional South African foods such as bunny chows (curry served in a hollowed out bun), boerie rolls (a type of hotdog made with really delicious, proper sausage), and snoek on roosterbrood (a type of fish on toasted bread). There’s also a night market (7–11pm) here on the first Thursday of each month (Feb–Dec).
While Maboneng serves up regular events and happenings to keep things fresh, it’s also continually expanding, incorporating new buildings that mix retail, exhibition, workshop, offices, and residential space. It’s become cool to live in this part of town – especially for those who work here. Some of the creative types and entrepreneurs can be seen peddling their ideas via laptops at tables on the sidewalk outside Uncle Merv’s milkshake-slash-smoothie shop, one of the many small businesses bringing neighbourhood flavour to the precinct. Further down the drag, mighty Cape Town-based artisan coffee roasters, Origin have earmarked premises for their new operation, too.
A fifteen-minute (sometimes longer) drive across town, Braamfontein was always pretty busy, but tended to revolve around office block activity and the academic pursuits at the large Wits University campus that straddles one section of this neighbourhood.
Various entrepreneurial projects were launched to bring a new vitality and sense of life to Braamies, as it’s affectionately known. 70 Juta offers a dozen-or-so boutiques (such as RawHanger, Me.co and Superbly You), pop-up design stores and galleries under one roof, along with one of Jo’burg’s new-generation coffee shops, Post, which lures a mixed crowd with its fresh food and barista-finished coffees.
Coffee, it seems, is the telltale sign of an urban area regaining momentum. Opposite Post, in the same block where Richard Branson’s Centre for Entrepreneurship is situated, Doubleshot roasts its own coffee, and sells some very inspiring teas, too. You can sit in the window and watch endless action on the sidewalks from here, or get lost gazing at the classic roasting equipment. In the same block, just around the corner, Father Coffee is yet another new daytime hangout with a Scandi-clean aesthetic. Braamfontein’s real blessing – at least when it comes to bringing people from the suburbs into the city – is upstairs, right above Father Coffee. The Neighbourgoods Market that happens upstairs on Saturdays, is where Jo’burg’s in-crowd gathers to squash hangovers, picking from a vast variety of food stalls (offering anything from fresh Mozambican coconut water to milktarts disguised as cupcakes). Then, they browse the designer clothes lines upstairs, get caught up at the bar and lose time as the DJ signals the start of another late-afternoon party.
And then there’s The Beach, a rooftop patch of sand trying very had to emulate the seaside, but instead doing a better job of being a high-altitude bar with a relaxed atmosphere (and limitless Grolsch with your entry ticket; Sat 1–7pm).
Meanwhile, The Living Room is another upstairs restaurant – back in Maboneng – proving its mettle as the latest down-to-earth, unpretentious socialising spot where fun-loving Joburgers hang out in a thriving rooftop garden, surrounded by dreamcatchers and drooping hammocks, with a eco-conscious menu and regular music events. Creating the kind of laid-back, carefree vibe that money-centric Johannesburg secretly adores.
Written by Keith Bain
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About the author: KeithBainKeith Bain
Cape Town-based writer Keith Bain has co-authored guidebooks to India, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Kenya & Tanzania, Ireland, and Italy. He also co-wrote A Hedonist's guide to Cape Town, and is the co-founder of Best Kept (www.bestkeptshhh.com), a bespoke trip-planning company that tailors holidays in India and Africa.